Prokop Divis

This week in Mailbox, we reveal the identity of our mystery person from our April competition and announce the four lucky winners of some parcels from Radio Prague. Listeners quoted: Marc Soens, Suresh Agrawal, Helmut Matt, Christine Takaguchi-Coates, Mary Lou Krenek and Teodor Shepertycki.

You may remember we asked you for the name of the Czech inventor who came up with the lightning rod at roughly the same time as Benjamin Franklin. One of the first people to send in a correct answer was Marc Soens in Belgium:

"I think your mystery man must be the Czech inventor Vaclav Prokop Divis. He was born in Helvikovice on March 26 in the year 1698 and died on Christmas Day 1765. During his life he was a theologian and a natural scientist. As pioneer of research into electricity he invented the lightning rod sometime between 1750 and 1754 without knowing that Benjamin Franklin had done the same thing in America. Not many people will know this but Vaclav also invented the first electrified musical instrument in history - the so-called Denis d'or. This electrical musical instrument could also be called the grandfather of all electric guitars."

Suresh Agrawal in India also came up with the right answer:

"The answer is the clergyman and inventor Prokop Divis. Of the range of his technical discoveries, the lightning conductor is best known, although it worked on a different principle from modern lightning rods. His life in Primetice is commemorated by a monument with a reconstruction of the original lightning rod destroyed by the citizens of the town in 1760, as they considered it the cause of a long drought."

Our question prompted German listener Helmut Matt to do some research on the Internet and he found out the following:

"The Czech scientist who invented the lightning rod at about the same time as Benjamin Franklin was Vaclav Prokop Divis. While I looked in the Web for information on this topic I read on the German Wikipedia site, that even the ancient Egyptians had knowledge about the lightning rod and that in the years of Ramses III lightning rods were installed. Interesting, isn't it?"

Regular listener Christine Takaguchi-Coates in Japan also did some research on one of Vaclav Prokop Divis's other inventions

"Vaclav Divis also invented what was possibly the first electrified musical instrument in history, the so-called Denis d'or (the Golden Dionysus). Unfortunately the place of the instrument's location was lost hundreds of years ago, and there are only a few remaining documents about it. The instrument was played using a keyboard. It supposedly had 790 strings that were struck to be played. It was a novelty because it could imitate other instruments, such as the harpsichord, the harp, the lute, and some wind instruments. The Denis d'or could also be electrified. Divis would temporarily charge the metal strings to enhance sound quality. He also installed a mechanism that allowed the player to be shocked anytime Divis wished."

Another regular listener, Mary Lou Krenek in Texas in the USA, also dug up some more information on Vaclav Divis:

"After graduating as a doctor of theology, he spent his life as a priest and scientist-inventor. He concentrated much of his scientific work on electrostatic phenomena. He is best known for inventing the lightning rod between the years 1750-1754, independently from Ben Franklin in 1753. Some of his other important scientific work included hydro-technical works, where he built several water-conduits, and constructing musical instruments related to monastic music activities; the most important one being the "Denis dor." Also, his research focused on the effect of electricity on living bodies or electrotherapy."

Finally Teodor Shepertycki in Ottawa, Canada had this to say:

"The mystery man who invented one version of the lighting rod - which he erected in June 1754 in Primetice - was Vaclav Divis. Born on the 26th March 1698 in Helvikovice near Zamberk he became a priest at the Premonstratensian Monastery in Louka near Znojmo. Upon taking his monastic vows he adopted the monastic name Prokop. Furthermore, during a period in his life when he was responsible for a parochial farm he busied himself with the building of hydro-technical works. Later on, he designed and constructed at least one unique musical instrument."

The lucky four winners drawn out of the hat for this month's competition are Marc Soens in Belgium, Teodor Shepertycki in Canada, Suresh Agrawal in India and Helmut Matt in Germany. Congratulations and some small prizes from Radio Prague should soon be on their way to you. If you weren't one of the winners this time round, you can always try answering our competition question for the month of May.

Many of you will have heard of the great English Oriental scholar TE Lawrence or "Lawrence of Arabia" as he is known to many. But although he is not so famous today, Lawrence's contemporary and great rival as the leading Arabist of his day was a Czech parson who travelled extensively in the Middle East in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is perhaps best remembered for being the first Westerner to discover the Islamic monument - the Qusayr 'Amra lodge in Jordan. He was also a member of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, the personal confessor of the Habsburg Empress Zita and a botanist who discovered several new desert flowers. We'd like to know the name of this mystery Czech.

As usual, please send your answers to Radio Prague, 12099 Prague, Czech Republic or you can also send us a quick email to [email protected]. That's all we have for you in Mailbox this week. Pavla Horakova will be back to answer your letters and emails next week.